By Karen Pallarito
THURSDAY, April 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Eight million Americans signed up for private health insurance during the just-concluded first enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, the White House announced Thursday afternoon.
An estimated 35 percent of those who signed up are younger than 35, and 28 percent are between 18 and 34 years of age. Those numbers are very close to the first-year enrollment numbers Massachusetts saw when it introduced its health reform legislation in 2006, the White House said in a news release.
Younger adults' participation in the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare, is considered crucial because they tend to be healthy and their insurance premiums are designed to offset the costs of medical treatment of older, sicker people.
The rising cost of health care also has slowed to the lowest rate on record, Obama administration officials said Thursday. Since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, per capita health care spending is "estimated to have grown at the lowest rate on record for any three-year period and less than one-third the long-term historical average stretching back to 1960," the news release said.
"This thing [the Affordable Care Act] is working," President Barack Obama said Thursday afternoon during a press briefing at the White House.
The first sign-up period for insurance under the Affordable Care Act ended March 31, when an 11-hour surge of consumers pushed initial enrollment estimates to 7.1 million participants.
The prospect of 7 million Americans signing up seemed unlikely as recently as mid-March, when federal officials were saying approximately 6 million people had registered for coverage.
According to the White House, one of the main objectives of the Affordable Care Act is to expand access to affordable health care options for uninsured Americans, estimated last year to be 45 million people. The law led to the creation of the online marketplaces, or exchanges, where people in each state and the District of Columbia could compare health plans and sign up for coverage.
But the law remains controversial. Numerous polls show Americans are sharply divided over it, and Republicans are almost universally opposed to it.
The enrollment process got off to a terrible start back in October with the botched unveiling of the HealthCare.gov federal registration website. Computer glitches and software problems made the website virtually unusable for long periods of time.
The problems with HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states that don't operate their own registration websites, were eventually solved. But it was widely assumed that the registration earlier this month of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was due to the early registration problems.
Now that the first enrollment deadline has passed, most Americans won't have another chance to sign up for coverage until the next open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15. Coverage purchased during that time won't take effect until 2015.
With some exceptions, people who are uninsured for most of 2014 may have to pay a penalty during next year's tax season under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The maximum penalty for 2014 is $95 per adult and half of that for children (up to $285 for a family of three or more) -- or up to 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater.